Labour Looks Forward From Quebec City


As we look forward to

planning future political actions in opposition to free trade and globalization,

unions in English Canada can learn much from the People’s Summit and the anti-FTAA

protests held in Quebec City in April.

It is noteworthy that such

a massive anti free trade demonstration would take place in Quebec, where none

of the major political parties opposes free trade. No small part of the success

of the April 21 protest was due to the efforts of the Quebec unions, whose

members participated in the tens of thousands. The fact that such a broad

spectrum of members participated in this protest should encourage the rest of

the labour movement to consider the organization of similar mass rallies in the


A key element to the

success of the demonstration, and to the Labour forum held as part of the

People’s Summit, was the cooperation of all of the major union centrals. The

perennial rocky relations between the FTQ, CSN, and CSD did not stop them from

jointly planning and participating in these activities. This should act as an

inspiration to everyone in English Canada, within the CLC, and within the CAW,

AUPE, and other suspended or unaffiliated unions, to recognize that the need to

unite and jointly cooperate in the struggle against corporate globalization must

supercede our other political differences and institutional rivalries.

The Labour movement must

also learn from the acts of courage and solidarity that were displayed by the

thousands of non violent protesters that maintained a continuous presence at

"the wall" which enclosed the official summit.

There has been much

discussion about the route of the "peaceful march" which led protesters to a

park several kilometers from the wall. Labour, and the other groups which

organized the massive march, had been clear to the participants that the route

would be organized to ensure the safety of all. As such, this protest was open

to all, including families with young children and persons who were not able or

willing to risk violence or tear gas and rubber bullets. Once organized on this

basis it was impossible to change the route in any way that may have betrayed

this commitment of personal security.

The leadership of the

Quebec labour movement and the other groups that organized the march recognized

the need for this type of "peaceful," inclusive protest activity, which can

appeal to all union members and the population at large. Demonstrations are not

an end in themselves, but rather a means, or a reason to engage the membership

in political discussion. In the weeks preceding the demonstration many of the

Quebec unions did a spectacular job of engaging members in political discussion

and education around free trade. Asking members to participate in activities

which may be hazardous to their health inevitably results in the political

discussion being eclipsed by a debate on tactics. This mass demonstration was

organized so that all of the members were comfortable bringing their families

and friends. As a result over 60,000 workers and citizens marched together in

the largest show of opposition to free trade ever held in Canada.

Combative situations such

as Quebec City, which involve a large, intimidating police presence, also

require us to consider adding other forms of protest activities to that of the

mass march. We need to find the means of openly acting in solidarity with the

students and youth who participate in non violent protest actions. When state

leaders gather to enshrine corporate rights within international agreements it

is inevitable there will be a show of state repression which generates a

vigourous protest. The labour movement must be clear which side it is on.

That doesn’t mean sending

unprepared union members up to police lines to be incapacitated by gas and

pepper spray. In Quebec City it was very clear that many of the youthful

demonstrators at the wall were better trained and equipped than the union

activists that briefly appeared to show solidarity before most were driven away

by gas. It will mean that labour must put greater emphasis on non violent civil

disobedience training. It means that union leaders should openly and repeatedly

condemn all forms of state violence. It requires that union resources are

directed to provide medical and legal support for those that are injured and

arrested. It also means that there must be an open discussion of the

relationship between the labour movement and other non labour groups who

practice more combative forms of non violent protest.

Faced with scabs, court

injunctions against picketing, and plant closures, many Canadian unions have

frequently found it necessary to engage in all sorts of different types of non

violent acts of civil disobedience including plant occupations and blocking

roads and bridges. Our movement wasn’t built only on picket lines, it was built

on the streets. Labour should not feel uncomfortable when others use similar

protest tactics to support our mutual goals.

Despite some differences

over tactics and strategy the events in Quebec City should serve to promote

greater cooperation between labour and other parts of the movement against

globalization. The cooperation within labour, and between labour and the other

organizations in organizing the People’s Summit, bodes well for the future.

Hundreds of labour delegates to the People’s Summit conducted a march to the

wall on Friday as a sign of solidarity with the students and youth The fact that

leaders of the CLC registered as an affinity group and participated at a Spokes

council during the Quebec protest indicated a willingness to establish a

dialogue with other parts of the greater movement.


is a need for a thorough discussion of the future forms of protest and relations

between the organizations and constituencies that make up the anti-globalization

movement. Labour should be part of these discussions and should participate in a

spirit of comradeship and solidarity. Quebec City demonstrated once again that

we have much to contribute, and much to learn. 


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